It was another fun weekend of college football, even if things were a bit more tame this week than last. We saw some standout performances in conference openers, with teams trying to announce early that they’re here for the conference title. To view last week’s rankings that followed the commotion of week four, click here. To look at all the rankings we’ve posted this year to get an idea of how the landscape of the Group of 5 conferences has shifted around as teams jockey for positions at the top, click here. For this week’s rankings, simply keep reading.
#1. Boise State Broncos (Last Week: 1)
Boise State took a week off after opening their Mountain West schedule with a win over Air Force, and they’ll head to Las Vegas to take on UNLV this week. ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives Boise State at least a 75% chance to win all but two of their remaining games, with only their games at BYU (57.3% win probability) and Utah State (53.4%) being considered close by FPI. That results in Boise State having a 47.7% chance at winning the Mountain West, easily making the favorite as Utah State, who’s already 2-0 in-conference, has the second-best odds at 21%. As the Broncos keep winning (and he keeps performing) the legend of freshman QB Hank Bachmeier will continue to grow. He continues to look better every game, with his first turnover-free game in the win over Air Force, while also posting his highest completion percentage and average yards per attempt. The offensive line could use to help him a bit more, as that was supposed to be a position of strength for the Broncos as they returned all five starters from last year, but Bachmeier has been sacked multiple times in all four games and twelve times total. The running game has been productive, though, as leading backs George Holani and Robert Mahone have both already ran for over 200 yards while averaging over 4.5 yards per carry. Holani has yet to reach the end zone, and we’ll see if he can change that at UNLV this week.
#2. UCF Knights (2)
The Knights steamrolled UConn, as they should have, this weekend, as they led 56-0 in the third quarter before packing it in, with the Huskies scoring 21 meaningless points to make it a 56-21 final. Freshman Dillon Gabriel showed another flash of why the Knights are putting so much faith in him, throwing 11-16 for 281 yards and three touchdowns, while being turnover-free once again after throwing the first two interceptions of his career a week earlier in their loss to Pitt. The fact that that game is sandwiched between his incredible performances against Stanford (22-30, 347 yards, four touchdowns) and UConn makes it look like a fluke brought on by Pitt’s impressive pressure (Gabriel was sacked six times in the game). Gabriel Davis caught all three of Gabriel’s touchdown passes, making five total catches in the game including a 73-yard catch for a score as part of an 119-yard day. Defensively, Kalia Davis had a forced fumble that he recovered, and among their three other turnovers was Nevelle Clark’s 48-yard pick-six. Next week, UCF has what should be their biggest test in AAC play when they travel to Cincinnati. If the Knights win that game, they will have an easy path to the AAC East title, as the only other game FPI gives them less than an 80% chance to win is against Tulane, who plays in the West division.
#3. Memphis Tigers (3)
Memphis got out to a slow start against Navy on Thursday night, falling behind 20-7 before Gabriel Rogers’ kick return touchdown brought it back to a six-point game at the half. The Tigers offense didn’t really do much in the first half other than a 75-yard touchdown run by Kenneth Gainwell on their first offensive play of the game, going 3-and-out twice, giving up a fumble, and missing a field goal after taking over at the Navy 34 yard line after the Midshipmen had a turnover on downs. The offense got going in the second half though, scoring touchdowns on three consecutive drives including 73-and-31-yard touchdown passes. Brady White ended up at 14-18 for 196 yards and three touchdowns, while Gainwell finished the night with 104 yards on fourteen carries including the long TD run to open the game. Sophomore defensive back Sanchez Blake Jr recorded the first interception of his collegiate career along with recording nine tackles in the game in a big performance on the defensive side for the Tigers. The Tigers will play Louisiana-Monroe this week in their final out-of-conference game of the year in the fourth meeting between the two schools, with Memphis winning most recently in 2017 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
#4. Cincinnati Bearcats (6)
The loss to Ohio State looks less bad when the Buckeyes are pummeling anyone who dares to line up across from them so far this year, and the Bearcats just put up a smashing win of their own at Marshall. They were up 45-0 heading into the fourth quarter, put in their second-stringers and ended up with a 52-14 victory. Desmond Ridder threw as many touchdowns as incompletions (four each) in an 18-22 game with 221 yards through the air, adding 48 rushing yards for Cincy as well. Six different Cincinnati players scored on their seven touchdowns, with Josiah Deguara being the one to find the end zone twice, on a two-yard run late in the second quarter after catching a 13-yard pass from Ridder for a score earlier in the quarter. They got after Isaiah Green all game long, registering two sacks but more impressively having seventeen times where they were credited with a QB pressure on his 29 pass attempts. That led to him completing just eleven of them for 131 yards, less than five per attempt. The Bearcats should be feeling very confident heading into AAC action, though they start out with their toughest test as UCF comes to Cincinnati in a huge AAC East clash. The two teams had never played each other before becoming conference foes, and Cincy’s only win in the series so far came during the Knights’ 0-12 2015 season. They’ll look to change that and set themselves up in good position to win their first AAC title this Friday night.
#5. Appalachian State Mountaineers (4)
A two-hour delay in the first quarter for lightning punctuated a slow start for the Mountaineers, who were tied with Coastal Carolina 21-21 late in the second quarter. From there, App State would go on a 35-9 run before a late Chanticleers touchdown made it a 56-37 final score. When their offense plays this well, they only need a few big plays in a game from their defense to propel them to a win. They got that defensive big play in the form of Shaun Jolly’s 24-yard pick-six when CCU had the ball looking to make it a one-possession game early in the fourth quarter. Zac Thomas was efficient for App State, throwing 19-23 for 246 yards and two touchdowns, though he also threw an interception. Daetrich Harrington, Darrynton Evans, and Marcus Williams Jr combined for 174 yards and five touchdowns rushing as the offense continued to put up big numbers, with North Carolina still being the only team to hold them under 40 points. There are many upcoming games that will have a huge impact in a lot of Group of 5 races, with the aforementioned UCF-Cincy matchup in the AAC, Western Michigan traveling to Toledo (which we’ll talk about more in their segments), and App State visiting Louisiana in the Sun Belt next Wednesday after a “bye week” that will be about 10 days off between games. The Mountaineers are 6-0 against Louisiana since coming up to the Sun Belt, and they’ll look to make it 7-0 to have some wiggle room in the East division.
#6. SMU Mustangs (10)
I was a little late to jump on SMU, but I’ll try to make up for it by pushing them up these rankings in a hurry. They hit the gas peddle upon arrival in Tampa and built up a 41-0 lead over South Florida before coasting to the finish for a 48-21 victory. Shane Buechele continued to impress, going 21-25 for 226 yards and three touchdowns. The defense completely confused and frustrated Jordan McCloud, who was just 8-19 through the air for 66 yards, throwing a pair of interceptions to Rodney Clemons and being sacked six times. Things got better when the Bulls brought in Blake Barnett, as the senior threw for 222 yards and all three of their touchdowns, but he was sacked four times as well, and SMU’s ten total sacks in the game brought them up to an FBS-leading 25 on the year. Xavier Jones got things started with two rushing touchdowns in the first quarter for the Mustangs, finishing the game with fifteen carries for 155 yards and the two scores. James Proche had a big day receiving, finding the end zone twice as he earned a 7-catch, 96-yard game. Toby Ndukwe was the only defender to record multiple sacks for SMU, as ten different players were involved in their ten sacks, their first time recording more than five sacks in a game since their 2017 win over UConn that featured eight sacks including four by Justin Lawler, who now plays for the LA Rams. SMU starts playing AAC West foes this week as they host Tulsa.
#7. BYU Cougars (5)
BYU suffered a tough loss at Toledo last week, and have yet to win a game in regulation in 2019. The overtime wins at Tennessee and against USC are good, but they’ll need to bounce back when they go to USF after a bye week. The Cougars didn’t do a good job of capitalizing on Toledo’s three turnovers, punting off the first that led to a field goal for the Rockets, then getting a touchdown as a result of Toledo fumbling a punt return, but the third Toledo turnover directly led to disaster for BYU, as their first play on the ensuing possession they threw an interception that was returned 40 yards to set up the Rockets with the ball at the two-yard line and they would score the go-ahead touchdown. Zach Wilson threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns, but did so on 22-38 passing and also had that key interception late in the fourth quarter. Aleva Hifo had a great performance receiving in the game, catching five passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns including a 75-yarder in the second quarter. Kicker/punter Jake Oldroyd had his worst game both kicking and punting so far this year, missing two field goals after coming into the game at 10-11 on the year, and his three punts averaged 41.7 yards, lowering his season average to 47.0 yards per punt. The good news for the 2-3 Cougars is that they’ve played five of their seven most difficult games this year, per FPI, leaving them still with a good shot at getting to 8-4 with what was widely considered the toughest schedule of any non-Power 5 team.
#8. Army Black Knights (7)
Army will face Tulane coming out of their bye week as a 3-1 team that looked most impressive in their loss. Michigan doesn’t look as good now as they did at the start of the season, in part because of the struggle they had against Army, but the bigger factor was their embarrassing defeat at Wisconsin. For Army, though, this week they’ll try to get their first win over a team not ranked in the bottom 15 of FPI or an FCS school, as wins over Rice, UTSA, and Morgan State haven’t exactly looked impressive. They’ll hope their option attack is too much for the Green Wave, but Tulane is coming off a bye week as well which should have helped them prepare for it. Army can look forward to the rest of the season no matter what happens against Tulane though as it’s the last home game they’re not favored in, and they only have two games left after this week (at Air Force and Hawai’i) that FPI doesn’t think they’ll win. More good news for the Black Knights is the potential return of quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr for the game against Tulane. Hopkins had just over 1000 yards rushing last year and seventeen touchdowns, throwing for 1026 yards as well with six touchdowns passing as well. He’ll be a big addition and a stabilizing force for their offense when he returns hopefully this Saturday.
#9. Western Michigan Broncos (9)
The Broncos were manhandling their rival Chippewas from Central Michigan with a 24-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Then, their defense started to look like they had so far this season, surrendering three scoring drives in the final quarter in what ended up being a 31-15 win for WMU. While the defense had done enough to keep the Chips from scoring for the first three quarters, they also forced just one three-and-out the whole game, allowing 31 first downs for the CMU offense. They came up with big plays at big times, however, twice stopping Central on fourth down attempts in the red zone. On offense, Jon Wassink threw 18-29 for 244 yards and a touchdown and an interception (that the defender scooped off the ground and should have been an incomplete pass, but CMU had their three-and-out on the ensuing possession and the Broncos scored in two plays on their next drive). LeVante Bellamy posted his third consecutive 100-yard game, though this was the least impressive of the three as it took him 25 carries to get to 105 yards and just one touchdown after having five total in their previous two games. Senior safety Justin Tranquill recorded his first career sack and had an interception late in the third quarter to go along with five total tackles in the game. The Broncos now prepare for a huge MAC West tilt against Toledo, with the winner becoming the heavy favorite to win the MAC.
#10. Toledo Rockets (13)
Toledo wrapped up their out-of-conference action with a really good win over a tough BYU squad after struggling with Colorado State the week before. QB Mitchell Guadagni, while he didn’t run and throw for over 100 yards each this week, did throw for 206 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 54 more. That helped the Rockets get to 242 rush yards in the game without any individual hitting the century mark. The other factor that allowed that to happen was Shakif Seymour and Bryant Kobak both carrying for over 85 yards. The defense wasn’t amazing, surrendering 455 yards to the Cougars, but they stepped up in big situations, holding BYU to 5-15 on third downs, 0-2 on fourth downs, and forcing the late interception made by Khalil Robinson who returned it 40 yards to the 2-yard line to set up the go-ahead score with just under a minute left in the game. As we’ve mentioned, they have a game this week against Western Michigan that will go a long way in deciding who wins the MAC West. These two teams have played each other 73 times before, have met every year since 1950, and Toledo currently leads the all-time series 43-30 and is on a two-game winning streak. They’ve also won 18 of the last 25 games against the Broncos which has given them this lead in the series, and they’ll look to keep that going to put themselves in position to win the conference.
#11. Hawai’i Rainbow Warriors (11)
Hawai’i opened up Mountain West play in dominant fashion, pummeling Nevada in a 54-3 blowout in the desert. Everything was working for the Rainbow Warriors, from the offense featuring Cole McDonald throwing for 312 yards on 25-30 passing with four touchdowns, to the defense holding the Wolf Pack to about three yards per play, three points, and three turnovers. A third thing that went well for Hawai’i was trick plays, pulling off a fake kneel that resulted in a 29-yard run for Cedric Byrd II, who added one more good thing coming in threes for Hawai’i as he caught three touchdown passes in the game. They logged over 2.5 times as many yards as Nevada, forced a safety in the fourth quarter, and only punted twice in the game (though they also had two turnovers-on-downs) in their first 50-point win over an FBS team since smashing Utah State 63-10 back in 2006. They’ll take this week off before traveling to Boise State in what is now the only game remaining that FPI doesn’t have them favored in. That includes Hawai’i benefiting from hosting Fresno State and San Diego State, who are probably the other top teams in the Mountain West-West division. They have never before played in a conference championship game in school history, and are looking to change that this year.
#12. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns (12)
The Ragin’ Cajuns kept rolling, opening up their conference slate with a road trip to Georgia Southern where they were able to survive two Eric Garror fumbles on punt returns for a 37-24 win. Holding the Eagles to just 37 yards passing on 6-12 through the air, and it’s hard to win football games in this day and age with just a run game. What makes it possible is if you run the ball as well as Louisiana did, running for 275 yards while averaging 6.5 yards per carry as a team, with Trey Ragas gaining 131 yards on sixteen carries and Elijah Mitchell going for 81 on fourteen carries, with both backs finding the end zone twice. It helped that Levi Lewis was effective when they needed the passing game as well, going 11-18 for 165 yards and a touchdown pass on a fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. Louisiana technically gets a bye week this week before taking on Appalachian State next Wednesday in a game that could be a preview, and a decider for who hosts, the Sun Belt championship game. A win would go a long way for Louisiana’s chances in the Sun Belt West, where only Arkansas State has at least a 1-in-3 shot at beating the Ragin’ Cajuns, per FPI. The two teams squared off in Boone last year in the inaugural Sun Belt championship game, and Louisiana would like to see this year’s game happen in Lafayette to give them a better shot at coming out on top, whether they’re playing App State or another Sun Belt-East team.
#13. Marshall Thundering Herd (8)
An embarrassing defeat at their home field in addition to that Ohio win not looking so good after the Bobcats got beat by 20 at their home field against Louisiana the following week has Marshall taking quite a few steps down in my rankings. Cincinnati is a really good team. They’re not so good that trailing 45-0 at home at the end of the third quarter isn’t an awful performance. There’s maybe 5-10 teams in the country that a performance like that would be forgivable against, and they’re the teams competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff. About the only thing that went right for the Thundering Herd was the fact that they didn’t commit any turnovers. Isaiah Green completed just 11-29 passes for a career-worst 37.9% completion percentage (he had never been below 45% in a game before), had just 131 passing yards and no touchdowns. Marshall’s offense mustered one big play, Willie Johnson’s 40-yard touchdown run, while averaging less than 5 yards per play. The defense was a mess, too, giving up over 200 rush yards and nearly 300 pass yards as the Bearcats had just four drives (three punts and a fumble) where they didn’t score, compared to seven touchdowns and a field goal in the game. The good news is that Cincy ranks 29th in FPI while no C-USA team ranks higher than 79 (Florida Atlantic, now ten spots higher than Marshall), so Marshall now has their two most difficult opponents (Boise State and Cincinnati) out of the way. The Thundering Herd kick off C-USA play when they travel to Middle Tennessee State this week.
#14. Fresno State Bulldogs (14)
The Bulldogs continued to be unimpressive in a 13-point win over New Mexico State. Things were going great in the first half, capped off by a 91-yard pick-six by Wylan Free to make the score 24-0, but Fresno would then allow the Aggies a quick field goal before the end of the half, fumbling on their first drive of the second half leading to New Mexico State finding the end zone for the first time, and being outscored 17-6 after they had built their lead in the 30-17 game. A 79-yard rush touchdown by Jalen Cropper in the second quarter helped them build that lead and get to 239 rushing yards on the game. The defense forced three turnovers, as Free had the big pick-six in the second quarter, and late in the fourth sealed the game with another interception that led to the Bulldogs running out the clock, and Justin Rice had an interception to set up Fresno’s final score of the game, a field goal late in the third quarter. Fresno State is going to be one of the last teams to start their in-conference schedule in 2019, as they have a bye this week before taking on Air Force on October 12th as their first game in Mountain West play. Fresno State is 3-6 all-time against the Falcons, and is 1-2 in the series since they joined the Mountain West in 2012.
#15. Tulane Green Wave (15)
Tulane got out to a 1-0 start in AAC play when they beat Houston on September 19th, and then took a week off to prepare for Army in their final out-of-conference game this year. It’s been an impressive start for the Green Wave, with the loss to Auburn looking better and better as the year goes on, with the Tigers most recently blowing out Mississippi State by a 56-23 final. The schedule isn’t kind to Tulane, however, who has to travel to Army, Navy, Temple, Memphis, and SMU still this year. The home schedule? That has UConn, which is a team they would likely still beat easily on the road, UCF, who they have the worst chance of beating, per FPI, of any remaining game in spite of that game being in New Orleans, and Tulsa, who FPI thinks is roughly even with Navy. With that kind of schedule, an 8-5 season (whether that’s 8-4 and a loss in a slightly better bowl game or 7-5 with a win in a slightly worse bowl game) will be an impressive showing for a team that hasn’t won eight games since 2002. It’s easy to forget that once upon a time Tulane was a founding member of the SEC, especially because when people look for a failed program they look at Sewanee, who never fielded a Division I football team after World War II. After leaving the SEC, they had a few solid years as an independent, a great year in the C-USA under Tommy Bowden in 1998 as he led them to an undefeated season before leaving for Clemson, and not much since then. If head coach Willie Fritz can keep up the momentum he’s been building in New Orleans, we might be just a year or two away from seeing Tulane in the AAC championship game.
On the Bubble:
Utah State, San Diego State, Air Force, FAU, Temple
I’m excited. We haven’t had any games that have felt season-defining yet, but that’s likely to change this week somewhere in Ohio, or maybe two places in Ohio. Cincinnati hosting UCF on Friday night is the first game that will have major division title implications of the weekend, and Western Michigan traveling to Toledo on Saturday afternoon will leave the winner as the favorite in at least the MAC West if not the MAC as a whole. Tulane traveling to Army should also provide some entertaining football even if it doesn’t have any conference impact, and the military academy matchup between Air Force and Navy should be good as well. It’s sure to shake some things up here, so be sure to check back next week and as we continue to get deeper into the college football season.